Usta News

Black History Month Spotlight: Tanya Jackson( Tue, Feb 9 00:02:AM)


Tanya Jackson is an ordained reverend, a USTA Coach and Director of Jewels Twirling Academy in Miami, Florida.

Twirling background

I began twirling at age 14 in 1983 at my high school – Miami Northwestern. My mom always encouraged me to be involved in extra-curricular activities as a child. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to participate in when I got to high school until I went to my first football game. I watched the band come into the stadium (majorettes leading) and their capes were flowing in the wind. When they took the capes off to perform in the stands I lost my mind when I saw the sequins beaming underneath the lights.

I was determined to learn. The most graceful majorette was in my math class. I was the only 9th grader in a class of seniors. She was in jeopardy of failing the class and needed a tutor. I agreed to tutor her if she taught me some twirling techniques. An older person who lived in my apartment building by the name of Pam also taught me what she could although she didn’t make the squad. At tryouts I gave it my all, was the lowest score but made the team.    
Twirling successes

There are many but these are the top five.

1.    As a baton twirler myself, there are some people who are my closest and lifelong friends that I still hang out and travel with that were from that 1984 marching season. That’s close to 40 years of friendship. LaShonne, Kim, Inga, Sabrina, Connie, and Shannon I are still in touch regularly. My sponsors Valerie (Johnson) Butler and Kim McArthur are high in my heart like second moms. We remain connected as well and that’s special to me.
2.    As a coach, I think watching them get gawked at yet remain focused and eventually draw the audience and judges into and interesting posture to actually enjoy the routines is the highlight at the top of the list. When they finally became winners was also gratifying.
3.    As a raison d'être (purpose) I am an ordained reverend. Baton twirling has turned into a ministerial tool. My daughter Princess was battling some self-esteem issues about the same time I was asked to judge a twirling competition. The two things combusted and became the Jewels Twirling Academy. The fact that at age 26 she’s fully confident in herself, I attribute it to twirling. This same result is evident in many Jewels that have come after Princess and I can vouch for their parents’ satisfaction with this benefit as well.
4.    I’m now the coach of my high school team where it all started. This is huge and I’m honored. In large part to the work I’ve done in the community through twirling, I was inducted into the Miami Northwestern Sr. High School Hall of Fame in 2015.     
5.    In 2017, one of my AYOP score sheets stated that the routine was “on fleek” with a smiley face. That is urban vernacular for a job well done. I knew that the judge appreciated our performance very much and that the Jewels were very relatable.  

Twirling role models

As a child I had a male cousin, Reginald Boyd, who twirled in parades. My high school sponsor Valerie (Johnson) Butler and school mate Angela Peterson.

Twirling impact  

This “World of Twirl” has impacted me in enormous measures. The enjoyment has made me smile since I was 14 years old and picked up my first silver stick. The generational toss to my daughter helped me keep the love for the sport alive. The expansion of my family to include the Jewels and the rest of the twirling community has more than multiplied my life’s experiences and friendships. Twirling has been a nucleus to ministerial success that I think that God is pleased with.

I think that a nice amount of appreciation along with respect has been shown towards my team over time. Because we as a sustainable business developed a cultural twist that was unapologetically African American, there’s a sense of respect that has come over time as well. While maintaining the boundaries of the twirling regulations that we willingly subjected ourselves to, we’ve seen some elements of our style, moves, and event t-shirt ideas copied from time to time. I am consulted by fellow coaches and embrace the families of other teams as my own. That to me feels like love and family.   

Black History Month

Jackson’s daughter, Princess Jackson, Assistant Director of Jewels Twirling Academy, shares her thoughts on the importance of Black History Month:
"As an athlete and coach, the USTA celebrating black history means a lot to me. It means that my country respects and is grateful for all the contributions of black people and that is so refreshing to me, considering some of the ugly things from our country's past. The sport of baton showed me that we can all get along, and be treated fairly, no matter what color our tights and jazz shoes are."

Barriers to Black twirlers

The biggest challenges to the Black twirlers that I’ve coached are equity and better representation. Regarding equity, there are some performance categories in team that require a strong dance background or acro/gymnastics vantage point. For solo competition, private coaching and private lessons will become necessary in order to be competitive. I think that the problems of Black America as a whole stem from an economic disadvantage that trickles into many things but are particularly obvious in a sport that is as expensive as twirling is. That being said it brings us to the point of underrepresentation. There will always statistically fewer Black twirlers, predominately Black groups, due to the economic barriers.

I’ve been able to successfully combat this through the grace of God by having my team expenses underwritten. This is how we pay for travel, the best choreographers we can afford and let the ladies present themselves in beautiful attire.

My most desirable ideal in terms of what the twirling community could do to address this is become intentional about outreach in areas where there’s a high concentration of African Americans. This in my opinion is the only way to increase the representation.   

Inclusion and equality in our sport and in our world

As Dr. King would say, “For evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men to do nothing.” Exclusion and inequity are evil. I think that 2020 and its little brother 2021 highlighted that these evils are still among us. We therefore must resolve that in our sport, they have no place. The most effective anecdote is to do something. Everyone has their own way.

As a worldwide mission, and AFTER COVID-19 is under control, venues like the Caribbean islands and highly Afro-Caribbean concentrated places could be sites for international baton twirling events.

In meaningful ways, check on your Black friends. Although many of us are well within the twirling community, we minister in and are personally adjacent to violent communities that sociologically need repair. It has plagued my athletes and stifled their performance abilities in unimaginable ways.

There may be something that hurts your heart when you see it disproportionately affecting Black people, resolve to do something rather than nothing.

Closing thoughts

Don’t forsake the ghetto in you. It’s the title of the book I’ll finish writing someday. It means that we are to examine the most resilient parts of ourselves and go them each time we need to:
•    Say what we need to say with conviction and passion so that even if our words are distorted, the meaning isn’t lost
•    Risk it all for what we believe
•    Protect ourselves and fight to stay alive
•    Defend our personal territory and demand a peaceful existence in our personal space although chaos might be everywhere
•    Study the strategies of your mentors
The word ghetto gets carelessly tossed around but a “hood” phase in life simply represents a tough place that we’ve been. In the survival of those tough places is where the will to win is formulated and crystalized. It must not be forsaken.